BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan — The Taliban failed to capture any ground from Afghan security forces fighting for the first time without foreign firepower this fighting season, U.S. officials say, but the insurgents killed scores of soldiers, police and civilians in their campaign to weaken the government.
U.S. and NATO officials say the fledgling army and police aren’t ready to wage a sustained war against a determined insurgency. Coming just 13 months before most foreign forces are to withdraw, the mixed results reported by U.S. military officials underline the question of whether some of those forces should stay.
The assessment adds urgency to the need for the U.S. and Afghanistan to sign a security agreement that will allow a residual foreign force to stay on after the Dec. 31, 2014, withdrawal deadline.
The U.S. says the one issue still to be decided is which courts — U.S. or Afghan — will prosecute crimes committed by American forces here. Washington is expected to keep about 10,000 troops in Afghanistan after 2014, provided the security pact is signed and includes immunity from prosecution by Afghan courts.
NATO allies would provide about 5,000 troops, but only if a U.S. presence remains. Billions of dollars in funds for Afghan forces and development also would be jeopardized if no deal is reached.
The 350,000-strong Afghan National Security Forces assumed responsibility for security in June, freeing the foreign forces to focus on training. In so doing, it took the lead against an insurgency 12 years since the U.S.-led invasion.
“Our efforts to date have enabled Afghans to assume the lead, take the fight to the enemy, and secure the population,” Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, the top U.S. and coalition commander in Afghanistan, said in his fall update to the troops. “But our progress is not yet sustainable.”
Holding territory came at a high price. Coalition officials say Afghan forces were at one point losing 100 men a week, mostly from roadside bombs.
The Afghans’ weakness, say military officials, is logistics: They have trouble with the upkeep of vehicles and other crucial equipment supplied by the West.
Army losses were not disclosed, but Gen. Mohammad Salim Assas, who leads the Interior Ministry’s police forces, said last week that 1,273 national police, 770 village police and 556 Afghan civilians were killed during the fighting season from the beginning of March to Oct. 25.
Assas said 2,168 insurgents were killed in nearly 2,000 security operations. He said insurgents mounted 6,604 attacks in 30 of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces during that period, including 50 suicide bombings, 1,704 shootings and shellings, 1,186 bombings and 920 ambushes.